By Katie Dubow, president Garden Media Group
In many areas of the country, the weather has cooled and the leaves have fallen, and the trees are now bare. Tree experts say now is the perfect time to go outside and check the health of a property’s trees.
“Think of winterizing as preparation for spring,” says David Horvath, sales arborist in Chicago for the Davey Tree Expert Company. “Some plants require extra protection from harsh conditions and salt.”
Horvath says the better you care for your landscape in the winter, the less you’ll have to do to prepare for the spring. Trees will emerge healthier and perform better when they awaken from dormancy. On the flip side, if plants enter winter stressed, their problems will only worsen come springtime.
5 Tips to Prepping Trees
1. Mulch, hydrate and feed.
Mulching, watering and fertilization are important throughout the year. Head outside—while you still have time—to make sure you provide your trees the nutrients they need for the long, wintry months ahead.
Horvath urges homeowners to add at least a two- to four-inch blanket of mulch over as much of the root zone as possible. Apply a slow-release fertilizer to help keep trees nourished all winter long. Come spring, the trees will be blooming and ready to show off.
And don’t forget about giving newly planted trees one last deep watering. Water newly planted evergreens until the ground freezes and spray with anti-desiccant. This will protect them during their first winter season from winter injury as well as provide protection to existing evergreens that may be at risk from salt spray.
2. Dormant pruning.
Remove dead, diseased or crossing branches to help trees maintain a stronger structure and tolerate high winds. Certified arborists specialize in knowing just which branches to remove (and how to do it) to reduce hazards. An arborist can tell the difference between live and dead branches—even when the leaves are off. They can better evaluate the trees structure without the foliage.
Well-maintained, properly pruned trees are less likely to break and cause damage in heavy winds, rain and snow. Winter pruning also helps reduce disease risk and minimizes the impact of the work on the garden underneath.
3. Keep pests away.
Apply dormant oil in the fall to stop over-wintering insects from developing further. While dormant oils eliminate harmful pests, they’re less toxic to beneficial bugs. In spring, you’ll have fewer damaging insects gnawing on fresh tree foliage and fruit. Also, now is a good time to protect yummy plants from hungry deer by applying deer repellents.
If you see a tree bending or drooping because of snow and ice accumulation, think twice before shaking the branches. Branches coated in ice can become quite brittle—shaking them can cause damage or breakage. Also, since trees are flexible, suddenly knocking the ice weight off may cause branches to snap back, potentially damaging the tree. Properly pruned trees will be better able to withstand heavy snow and ice.
5. Hold the salt.
Rock salt damage can make winter unpleasant for your trees. Salt runoff washes into the soil and can be taken up by the roots causing disfigured foliage, stunted growth, severe decline and even death. Applying the gypsum to trees, plants and lawns now will help reduce the damage from the get-go. There are also environmentally-friendly snow melt options available.